The Disney parks have Mickey Mouse. The Universal parks have…well yes, they have Harry Potter. But the Boy Wizard and his Potter pals, like most of the parks' other characters and intellectual property, are licensed from other content providers. King Kong, however, is a Universal original.
For years, the big ape was the character perhaps most closely associated with the parks. He was MIA from Universal Orlando since Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida took over his old stomping grounds in 2004. But he returned where he belongs in summer 2016, when Skull Island: Reign of Kong opened at the resort's other theme park, Islands of Adventure.
The Head of Skull Island
The attraction is a mashup of the former Universal Studios Florida ride, Kongfrontation, which featured humungous animatronic representations of the big galoot, and King Kong 360 3-D, a media-based simulator attraction that is part of the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. In the new attraction, Kong makes appearances both as a virtual, CGI-rendered character in glorious high-definition 3-D (like the retooled The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man), and as an actual, practical animated character.
Kong acts as a protector and wards off the prehistoric creatures threatening to attack the Studio Tour tram and its hapless passengers. (The inclusion of a nasty T Rex and other dinosaurs justify the attraction’s location in the Jurassic Park section of Islands of Adventure.) For USF's original Kongfrontation, the big guy himself was the aggressor. He caused general havoc in Manhattan and assaulted–including a hefty huff of banana breath–the Roosevelt Island aerial trams which guests boarded.
Using what is known as “immersion tunnel” attraction technology, the ride’s vehicles lock down on a motion base inside a tunnel and then move in sync with action projected on the semi-circular walls of the space. Passengers experience an uncanny sense of forward movement in the attraction even though the vehicles remain tethered in place. Guests’ attention moves from side to side as Kong interacts with the rampaging creatures all around the vehicle.
The effect is much more convincing than another Universal Orlando attraction, Fast & Furious – Supercharged, that also uses the immersion tunnel concept. Although F&F is more grand-scale, its CGI scenes are underwhelming and seem out of scale sometimes. Kong, on the other hand, nails the scale and the tone.
After the vehicles exit the immersion tunnel, a stunning, "life-sized” animatronic Kong greets guests. His voice is so booming and amped-up, passengers can feel the ape’s growl as their bodies vibrate from the percussions. It is one of the most impressive animated characters ever created for a theme park attraction.
By the way, the fun begins before guests even board the transport vehicles. While in line, they travel through ancient temple ruins and encounter hostile natives. You’ve been warned!
Skull Island is another in-your-face, rollicking, explosive attraction from Universal. If Mickey Mouse represents the sweet and innocent soul of the Disney parks, Kong epitomizes the wild, chaotic, we're-all-doomed! ethos of arch rival Universal.